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DESTINATIONS Russia


MATCH READY?


Preparing to host the 2018 Fifa World Cup is making the country up its aviation and infrastructure game WORDS: NEAL BALDWIN


E


arlier this month, the build-up to the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia officially began. Forget


the numerous qualifying matches that have gone before – things really don’t start until the trophy sets off on its publicity tour across the host nation. Generating excitement by taking the


iconic golden statue on the road is easily dismissed as a publicity stunt, but for this tournament the trip has a special significance. The trophy will travel more than 23,000km in 123 days – its longest- ever marketing journey – going from Vladivostok in the far east to Kaliningrad, the most westerly of the 11 host cities with 12 stadia. In doing so, it reveals the sheer scale of the host nation. Hosting the planet’s largest sporting


extravaganza is something you can’t afford to get wrong. With the eyes of the world on Russia from kick-off on June 14 until the trophy is raised in the air on July 15, the success of the tournament is, by definition, proof of the country’s importance and professionalism on the international stage. And with one million foreign football


supporters predicted to attend, the country’s airports, many of which have suffered from a recent lack of investment, will be charged with making the right first impression.


66 ISSUE 5 ROUTES NEWS 2017 routesonline.com The tournament comes at a time of


gradual decline for the country’s aviation sector, prompted by ongoing geopolitical issues. Since 2014, Russia’s international isolation has deepened on the back of economic sanctions introduced after the country’s annexation of Crimea. Falling oil prices have conspired to hit the economy as inbound travel dropped. Meanwhile, Russians have had less money for outbound travel, thanks to a 40% drop in the value of the ruble.


Slump in traffic


The scale of the slump is illustrated by official figures from Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transportation (Rosaviation). While Russian airlines carried a total of 88.55 million passengers in 2016, this represents a decline in business of 3.6% year-on-year. Of that, international traffic fared especially badly, down 16.5% to 33 million passengers, with much of the fall attributable to the fact that Russian carriers were forbidden to operate flights to some of their most popular destinations, namely Ukraine, Egypt and Turkey. Additionally, traffic was hit by the demise of Russia’s former second-largest carrier, Transaero, in October 2015. And while domestic traffic was up 4.6% to 55 million passengers, these figures are skewed by


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